Russia is an exotic destination that copies the imagination of many. The country receives an average of 24 million foreign visitors each year, people who are excited to discover the hidden gems up north.
The primary tourist draws in Russia are big cities with centuries of history, from the cathedrals of Moscow to the opulent palaces of St. Petersburg.
Most of Russia is covered by acres of untouched nature, perfect for the adventurous tourist, whether you travel through it on the famous railways or go on adventures closer to the outdoors. However, many people hesitate before planning their trip to Russia due to safety concerns.
Safety concerns about visiting Russia have increased particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is affecting security in the bigger country even though there’s been little fighting directly on its territory.
So, is Russia safe to visit or not? Fortunately for you, our travel experts put together this extensive travel guide to help you figure out if you should visit right now or not.
Is Russia Safe to Visit in 2023?
No. Right now, Russia is not safe to travel to due to the war in Ukraine. Although most of the fighting is on the territory of Ukraine, there have been raids across the Russian border.
The war is also leading to a crackdown in the political situation, which targets foreign citizens often, and an increase in crime. The safety of your visit to Russia might depend on your citizenship, which is reflected in the different travel alert levels issued by different countries.
Countries in the West, such as those in North America, Oceania, and Europe, generally advise citizens not to travel to Russia right now.
For example, Ireland advises its citizens not to travel to Russia until further notice. Countries from other parts of the world are more measured in their advice.
For example, Singapore tells its citizens to avoid certain Russian regions that border Ukraine but that they can travel freely in the rest of the country. The citizens of countries that maintained friendlier relationships with Russia despite the ongoing war are safer when they visit.
There have been situations where Russia arbitrarily detains foreign citizens that come from countries that have unfriendly diplomatic relationships with Russia at the moment.
You may think that you are following all the local laws, but if you have an “unfriendly” citizenship, the Russian government could easily find an excuse to detain you as part of a larger diplomatic game.
The U.S. State Department even warns about the possibility of detention in its travel advisory, where it tells citizens to avoid all travel to Russia. For a long time, Russia has been a country with limited freedom, but the situation has gotten worse ever since the invasion of Ukraine.
Even though most of the fighting is taking place on Ukrainian territory, countries such as the United Kingdom are still advising their citizens not to travel to Russia due to the war.
The war has affected Russia, even though it is the invading country, in many ways. Due to the war and sanctions, the Russian economy is increasingly volatile, leading to unrest.
There have been explosions and incidents on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, and regions along the border are on medium alert.
There is also increased civil unrest due to the unpopular conscription measures as well as more and more people fleeing Russia. The Russian government responds to protests with heavy-handed repression, affecting locals and foreigners alike.
Russia does also have problems with crime, including:
- Armed robbery
- Organized crime
Crime is definitely a problem, but the biggest issue currently is the war.
Crime in Russia
Whenever you travel somewhere, crime is probably one of your primary concerns. According to pre-war data, Russia had low to moderate rates of crime. In 2021, the country reported 1,371.3 incidents per 100,000 people.
The site Numbeo, which gauges the criminality index of a country based on public responses, ranks Russia at 38.86 out of 100, which is a low score on the crime index.
However, people report moderate concerns about the increase in crime, certain crimes such as drug abuse and petty theft, and high levels of concerns about corruption. Although the overall crime rate is low, Russia does have a high rate of violent crime.
According to data sourced from the World Bank, Russia’s homicide rate in 2020 was 7.33 incidents per 100,000 people, which is a high homicide rate and above the global average.
Despite the high homicide rate, most people report feeling safe in Russia. That’s because most homicides and violent crime incidents in Russia are targeted rather than random acts of violence.
Russia has a very high organized crime presence, with the highest criminality score in Europe according to the Global Organized Crime Index. Russia’s organized crime groups are behind crimes such as human trafficking, the world’s second largest illegal weapons trade, heroin trafficking, racketeering, and more.
Levels of violence have gone down since the worst of the 1990s, but there are still cases of violent shootouts between members of rival gangs — and civilians getting caught in the crossfire.
While the likelihood of getting caught up in organized crime during your visit in Russia is low, you should still stay alert to the possibility just in case.
You should also be aware of the risk of terrorism when you visit Russia. Many countries, such as New Zealand, warn about the risk of terrorism in their official travel advisories.
There have been terrorist attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg before, although not a major one in the past few years, so you should be on the alert.
The North Caucasus region is the primary hotbed of Islamic terrorism in Russia, in part due to ongoing resistance to Russian rule over the region, and there have been cases of bombings in the region as well as targeted kidnappings and murders of foreign citizens.
Finally, no discussion of crime in Russia is important without a caveat. Most of the statistics we have for crime in the country come from before the war, and nobody knows with accuracy what the situation is like post-invasion of Ukraine.
Initial studies show that violent crime involving weapons rose by 30% in Russia following the invasion, and doubled in certain border regions.
The war and mass conscription made it easier for people to get their hands on weapons and increased dissatisfaction that might push someone into a life of crime.
Despite the scary news of terrorism, organized crime, and other high-profile crimes, the type of crime the average tourist is most likely to encounter in Russia is far more mundane.
Like most places around the world, Russia experiences petty theft. Petty theft such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is most common around popular tourist destinations.
The Australian government has a list of locations that are popular hotspots for thieves, such as Red Square and Izmailovsky Market in Moscow and popular tourist destinations in St. Petersburg such as around Petrodvorets Palace and Nevsky Prospect.
Besides around popular tourist destinations, be careful on public transportation. The Moscow and St. Petersburg metros, metro stations, and underpasses are popular destinations for pickpockets, as are intercity buses and trains.
Luckily, a few basic precautions should be enough to deter the average Russian pickpocket.
Try not to flash your valuables such as expensive smartphones, cameras, or jewelry as especially now that Russia is under sanctions, as that might be a tempting payday.
Store your valuables securely in a zipped bag held close to your body and never leave them unattended, even in a hotel lobby or restaurant. When traveling by train, lock your compartment and always keep a close eye on your valuables.
While most crimes that affect tourists in Russia are petty and non-violent in nature, there have been situations of foreigners being attacked and assaulted.
The Canadian government warns about the prevalence of assault, especially against people of Asian or African descent.
Unfortunately, racist hate crimes are commonplace in Russia, and some have even been fatal. Racially motivated assaults are not the only type of assault foreigners are at risk of in Russia.
Be careful when going out in clubs as drink spiking is common, especially in the big cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Criminals target foreigners and then rob or sexually assault them.
Never leave your drink unattended and research bars and clubs ahead of time, avoiding places known to be mafia-run. Some assaults occur in tandem with armed robberies.
Avoid dangerous areas of the place you are staying in, particularly at night. If you are robbed, comply immediately and don’t fight back as many Russian criminals are armed due to the ease of obtaining an illegal weapon in the country.
Avoiding Bad Areas
There are certain regions of Russia that you should avoid for your own safety. Avoid border regions with Ukraine as there have been clashes on the Russian side of the border.
The Rostov region is already under a state of emergency. Other regions where you should be careful include Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh, Kursk, and the Krasnodar Territory.
Avoid the regions of North Caucasus, including the Republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia, due to high risks of civil unrest and terrorism.
Avoid regions bordering Georgia, including the Mount Elbrus region and North Ossetia, due to increased unrest and high militarization.
Things to Consider
Here are some other things to keep in mind if you decide to risk it and go to Russia anyway:
- Many countries have closed their embassies or had their diplomats expelled from Russia, so assistance will be difficult to find.
- Avoid illegal drugs as the penalties are very severe. Just look at what happened to Brittney Garner when she illegally tried to bring a vape with traces of hash oil into the country.
- Discrimination and harassment of LGBT travelers is common, especially as Russian law strictly restricts freedom of expression of LGBT individuals.
- Internet scams are common, so beware of a new acquaintance or romantic interest from Russia asking for money or inviting you to come visit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions you might have about visiting Russia:
Is it safe to travel to Russia nowadays?
Since early 2022, it is unsafe to travel to Russia. The ongoing invasion of Ukraine had repercussions for safety in Russia as well and foreign citizens are at risk of crime as well as arbitrary detention.
Is it safe to go to Russia at night?
Whether or not it is safe to walk around at night depends on where you are in Russia. In bigger cities such as Moscow, as long as you stick to busy, well-lit streets, you should be fine at night.
Is Russia safe for UK tourists?
While there haven’t been many examples of UK nationals being targeted in Russia, you should still avoid traveling there for now. The UK government warns citizens that they may be arbitrarily detained due to strained relations between the UK and Russia.
Is Russia safe for female tourists?
For the most part, Russia is safe for female tourists. However, female visitors are often targeted for drink spiking and assault in nightclubs and late-night taxis. You will have to be more careful about your movements than a male traveler.
What should you not do when in Russia?
When you’re in Russia, avoid political discussions as you don’t want to endanger yourself or any locals that you interact with. Avoid bringing up sensitive topics such as the invasion of Ukraine or sexual orientation. Don’t break any local laws, including with drug offenses.
So, Is Russia Safe to Visit?
Your trip to Russia will probably have to wait, especially if you are from a country that has stopped diplomatic relationships with Russia.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has repercussions for the invading country’s security as well, with problems such as increased crime, increased government repression, and diplomatic tensions causing arbitrary detentions of foreigners.
We don’t suggest visiting Russia until the war is over. But fortunately for you, the world is a big place, and there are countless other locations to explore.